School Committee OK’s later start times; reopening strategy addressed

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School will start later this fall at Hopkinton High School, Hopkinton Middle School and Hopkins Elementary School, School Committee members agreed Thursday.

Start times for the high school and middle school would move to approximately 8 a.m. from the current 7:25 a.m. Hopkins would start at about 9 a.m. rather than the current 8:15 a.m.

Marathon and Elmwood elementary schools schedules would remain unchanged.

A later start time “has long been recommended and subsequently adopted by many other districts for its physical, social and emotional health benefits,” superintendent Carol Cavanaugh wrote in an email to parents.

A later morning start gives students the chance to sleep longer, she said.

Lack of sleep among high school students can make students less alert, which can lead to poor academic performance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and other sleep studies. Lack of sleep also has been linked to increased risks of concerning behavior, including smoking and drinking alcohol, studies have shown.

A later start time often has been requested by parents of secondary grade students, Cavanaugh said.

That support is echoed in results from parent surveys distributed by the school administration.

Ninety percent of high school and middle school parents raised no objections to the potential change, survey results showed. About 88 percent of Hopkins School parents also expressed no concerns, the results showed.

About 71 percent of the faculty at the high school and middle school responded that they had no concerns.

The results were decidedly more mixed among Hopkins faculty, who were evenly split on whether they had concerns about the change.

The new times would allow the district to reduce bus tiers to two — one for the upper grades, one for the lower. This would provide more efficient travel, Cavanaugh said. Fewer bus tiers could allow reduced expenses in future transportation contracts, finance director Susan Rothermich added.

Bringing school schedules more in line means that after-school athletic events could start at a more consistent time, rather than forcing Hopkinton students to wait until athletes from other schools with later start times finish class for the day, Cavanaugh said.

Committee chair Amanda Fargiano cast the sole vote against moving forward with the time change. She raised no objections to the concept in general, but said she wanted more public input and suggested hosting a public forum, possibly at the start of the meeting on Feb. 25.

Her fellow committee members countered that the survey results provided that feedback and that the issue has been under consideration for some time.

In other issues, Cavanaugh said a decision has not yet been made on when a full reopening of the schools will be feasible.

She said there is “no shortcut” to making that determination.

A group has been formed to look at issues that would impact reopening, such as scheduling, social distancing capabilities, lunch logistics, transportation and the trajectory of the virus.

Working together, this team will “collectively determine what needs to be achieved,” and what conditions must be met to reopen the schools, she said.

“Our eyes are fixed on trying to reopen this year, but we have to do the work to figure it out together,” Fargiano said.

The timing of vaccines and when they will be distributed to faculty members is a major factor, Cavanaugh said. “I would 100 percent be in favor of taking the time to ensure that the educators in our district have had the opportunity to be vaccinated,” she stated. “That vaccine is the final step we can take to ensure that the adults in our community have the opportunity to be immunized and feel that much safer.”

Schools may not necessarily open all at once, said committee member Meg Tyler, who serves on the reopening group. Among younger students, she said, spread has been “very low” compared to their older counterparts.

The social and emotional impact of the pandemic has exacted a toll on students that could take years to repair, she noted.

“The kids are the silent factor,” she said.

“As adults we have to let go of some of our selfish needs and paranoia,” she said, and “really think carefully about what would be best for the children.”

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